A Video Update from Samantha and Anna

Hello friends, family, and Northern Ice Ties supporters! Samantha and Anna recently got together to talk about the expedition and make some tough decisions about route changes. In this video we talk through some of the factors that impacted the decision to end our trip at Lake Winnipeg instead of our original plan to end in Churchill.

Maintaining Momentum

Summer has sped along and we are far overdue with an update!  There is a mix of news and a mix of feelings in our update, which we are sure many of you can relate to in your own lives. 

As so many have experienced, COVID times have presented challenges and it has pushed many to re-examine their needs, their dreams, and their priorities.  The Ice Ties crew has not been immune to this experience.  Our last year (plus) has been filled with bumps, emotions, decisions, and has required lots of patience… all of it.  Most recently, in May, our teammate Nora made the decision to leave the expedition.  It has been an emotional change for each of us, but while she has left the expedition, she has not left our hearts, and remains a close friend and supporter.  

What does this mean for the trip?  We, Anna and Samantha, remain committed to our original dream! We are hoping to make Hudson Bay a reality.  There are some adjustments in there. We will no longer be traveling with two dog teams, but one.  We have been actively downsizing our dog crew and looking for appropriate homes for each of those that will be leaving our team.  We will only be building one sled, which is getting underway this week!  We also still have the same workload, with a lighter crew, but we are conquering things steadily each week.

The expedition length and destination itself remains in flux as we consider COVID-19 and restrictions surrounding it.  Recent news reports that the border is reopening in August for vaccinated Americans traveling to Canada. With this announcement, we have hope that our full expedition plans could take place.  However, there are still roadblocks.   Right now vaccination rates are different throughout different areas.  Some rural communities we had planned to visit may not be open  to or welcoming visitors, despite vaccination status.  We want to be respectful of all communities and be sure that we are acting in a socially responsible and health conscious way as we move forward.  You might also now be asking, what happens if you don’t go to Hudson Bay?  At a minimum, we will be completing the Minnesota portion of our expedition, a total of 28 days.  We plan to make a final decision on the other portions of the route by early September.

Winter Comes to a Close

Spring always seems to sneak up on us here in Northern Minnesota… Sputtering between snow and rain, sub-freezing nights slowly give way to warm and sunny days as winter gives up the ghost and relents to the annual defrost. The 2020/2021 winter season was hard for us. Delaying the expedition was a challenging but ultimately simple decision to make, and like everyone else going through the COVID-19 pandemic it was mentally and emotionally taxing to spend the winter on edge; waiting for information about how the virus spread and if the northern border might open, all while isolating ourselves to limit exposure.

That being said we were still able to work towards our expedition goals by running our dogs on the trail systems connected to our property, testing our field gear, and meeting consistently to keep our project list up to date. The culmination of this work came at the end of February/beginning of March when Samantha and Anna took a team of dogs, a new (to us) tent and stove system, and a hulking Frankenstein-ed dog sled out for a rip up Moose and Knife lakes. The practice trip was successful by three important benchmarks: 1) the dogs adjusted and performed well pulling a loaded sled, 2) Samantha and Anna decided what they did and did not like about existing camp systems and took extensive notes for improved efficiency, and 3) they were able to get out and have some good old fashioned dog-sledding-winter-camping FUN!!! The week the two spent on trail was blessed with warm temperatures and bluebird days (but not too warm as to swamp the lakes with slush) and it felt great just to be outside in the Boundary Waters again.

Now, nearly two months after that trip, the ice and snow are completely gone and Samantha, Anna, and Nora are switching into summer mode. In our personal lives this means preparing for summer jobs, switching over our fleece and down wardrobes for jean shorts and sun dresses, and of course, rearranging the house. For the expedition, this means taking the notes from the practice trip and applying them to as many spring projects as possible. Our hope is to implement changes and cross things off our long-term “to-do” list so that when the fall rolls around, and the northern border hopefully opens for winter 2021/2022 international travel, we are one step ahead.

See our list below for a highlight into what some of the notes from our practice trip look like…

  • Foot powder.
  • Matches > lighters
  • Stove board — siliconized wood?
  • Lift stoves for increased efficiency
  • Wet tent-ness? Cooking in sleeping bags?
  • 11 ft seems ideal for sled length… 12 ft a bit much on portages. Width is good.
  • Diamond cord necessary for lashing
  • Freight boxes?
  • Contact the Amish
  • Tent bag system by Nora worked great
  • Fleece foot pocket for Sammie’s sweaty toes
  • Contact: MSR, Wintergreen, Piragis
  • Test egg pucks
  • Bulgar????
  • “Poop box!” Sammie chants
  • Can we incorporate solar panels on top of sled?
  • Purchase Garmin (messaging and maps work)
  • Hygiene conversation
  • Elon Musk sponsorship, let’s get on it

Strawing Season

Snow is on the ground and ice is on the lakes, which means fall has officially ended. This is fantastic news for our dogs, who due to below freezing temperatures have been able to run regularly. They love the cooler weather, and so do we. Winter means breaking out the heavy layers that have been stuffed away for a year, refining plans for our next training trip in February, and gearing up for the holiday season. We’ve been setting the mood by watching lots of cheesy Christmas movies, but this past week we also celebrated a less well-known event… the first strawing of the dogs!

The wooden dog houses we use in the yard are comfortable for our huskies in the spring, summer, and fall, but in the winter time when the mercury starts to drop, we add a little extra insulation. Enough fresh straw is lined along the inside flooring of the dog houses for the huskies to bed down in, but with enough space for them to be able to move around, enter, and exit easily. The straw is changed throughout the winter season as it gets packed down and soiled, and a fresh bed of straw is like a warm, comfy blanket for our dogs. Of course, every dog has a unique personality and their own preferences–some that run warmer will kick the straw out of their house and even prefer sleeping in the snow, while others cuddle up inside and only emerge for feeding or running. Wherever they fall on the spectrum, the first strawing of the season is an exciting event and the dogs go bonkers for the renovation.

Maverick is all smiles after her fresh straw bed is laid down.
Jedeye peaks out of his freshly strawed house to say, “thanks!”
Katara is too energetic to lay down in the fresh straw, but that doesn’t stop her from sniffing through it all.

As our team continues to solidify our winter plans–nailing down our winter employment, refining our expedition systems, and getting our dogs in peak performance condition–we will continue to update you on our progress. After all, strawing season isn’t just an exciting time for the dogs… It means it’s once again cold enough for us humans to do what we love most! Stay tuned for exciting next steps: stickers, our Christmas card, and the construction of our sled, all coming soon.

Evolving Plans

This post is long overdue.  Since March, our lives, as are most, have been in flux and we have been learning the art of patience, flexibility, and emotional wellbeing.  2020 seems a year that has and will continue to provide challenges that we must face. 

We are sad to share that our expedition teammate and friend, Meagan, had to make the difficult decision to no longer pursue the expedition.  We have been holding this news close to heart until now, as it has been a difficult and emotional change to wrap our minds around.  While we are grieving the loss of Meagan on the team, we love and support her completely in her decision.   We are so grateful to have had her as a part of the team while we did and are so grateful for her continued support and friendship. 

We are sure that you are all wondering now, is someone else joining the team?   At this point in time, we are still having discussions and figuring out how to move forward from here as a team.  Our intention at this point in time is to still fill out our team with a forth.  For the time being, we will remain a trio and continue moving forward with our plans.

While that may seem like the biggest news we could possibly share, we have more.   Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the current risk the virus poses to the remote communities we would be traveling through, we have chosen to postpone our expedition to January 2022.  As you can imagine, this decision was incredibly difficult to make.  Rest assured, we remain completely committed to the expedition, its mission, and our dogs!  We are viewing this extra time as an opportunity to dial in our systems, better prepare our dogs and ourselves, and to build closer relationships with our sponsors and the communities we intend to visit along the way.

While we have been faced with some unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances, we are still standing strong!  Anna, Nora, and Sammie having been living at “the compound”, which has made socially distancing a breeze with 40 acres to roam, a lake to enjoy, and trails to explore. We’ve fallen into a good routine, where Anna ensures that we all stay alive by eating well balanced meals–cooking is not Nora or Sammie’s strong suit. The dogs are enjoying their summer vacation and have experienced swimming for the first time in an effort to keep cool–there were mixed reviews from them on this experience… And now, we are headed into fall and getting ready to ramp up on early morning runs in the cool autumn air!

We are continually grateful for each other and the support and space we are able to provide one another. And, we are continually grateful for the support from the community of friends and family that surround us.